San Gabriel Valley Tribune, California USA.
Monday, April 10, 2006.
About noon every day I go and sit outside, in front of the Tribune.
It's from a concrete slab that I watch the world go by, smoke a cigar, give customers directions for parking in our lot and pray for strength to get me through the rest of the day.
It was there that I saw coworker Larry Barbee and his dog, a beautiful black Lab. Larry, who works in our telemarketing department, tells me he is 98 percent blind. And he has had various guide dogs for years.
But I would shake my head in wonder at what was wrong with his partner. It seemed to meander, not keeping Larry's best interests in mind.
"I bet I could do a better job than that dog," I would say to myself.
Then one day I saw Larry walking alone and asked him what happened to his four- legged friend.
He told me the dog got attacked five times in 18 months and, as Larry put it, just got fed up. The dog was retired.
And I, being the moron that I am, had trouble comprehending the problem.
"How could this happen?" I shouted at coworkers. "Isn't there some kind of rule in the animal kingdom that you don't attack a guide dog?"
And then I realized that dogs are dogs.
I walk my dog Pica every day. We come across meandering mutts all the time. But I can usually navigate our way around.
But good Lord, it must be terrifying to have an attack hit from out of nowhere.
"The very last time a pit bull put a hole in its front right leg," Larry said. "I just tried to keep me and my dog safe. I was just very scared. I didn't know where it was coming from and the owner was trying to release the jaw of the pit. My dog fought back and ripped the face of the pit bull open.
"The guide dog instructors said the only reason we were safe was because of me."
He had this dog, Presley, for two years. It was his third guide dog.
The frustrations that plagued Larry and his partner are apparently common in the guide dog community.
"It's a big problem," said Morry Angell, spokeswoman for Guide Dogs for the Blind out of San Rafael. "It derails careers of dogs."
And the problem is not only with vicious dogs. Friendly dogs can distract a guide dog too. Angell said guide dogs from her agency are trained to be social animals.
"It's akin to grabbing a steering wheel away from me," she said.
For some people, a guide dog can be a $30,000-$75,000 investment, plus they have to undergo 28 days of training.
Brenda Sanchez, spokeswoman for Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control, says the county does not have stiffer laws that specifically target animals that attack guide dogs.
"We would consider the case like any other vicious dog case," she said. "It is pretty much up to the judge."
She said fines can be as steep as $2,500 and six months in jail.
Larry has a new dog, and he tells me things are going well. He balks at rating his dogs. He seems to have a fond spot in his heart for them all.
"You can't compare them because they are still a part of your life, even when you give them up," he said.
(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2110
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